The composer's graduation piece, assigned by Arensky at the Moscow Conservatory and completed in 1892 when Rachmaninoff was 19, is famous as the first of his three one-act operas. It is drawn from Pushkin's poem, "The Gypsies" (read in both Russian and English--the latter by Michael York--on the second, accompanying CD).
The story and its form are both comparable to Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and the style apes Borodin's Orientalisms nicely. Musically, the short work combines bombast with lyricism; the writing is melodious, ingratiating and promises exactly what Rachmaninoff was later to deliver in his more developed symphonic canvases: tuneful and dramatic narrative. Among the work's many charms, convincingly performed by conductor Orbelian and his gifted colleagues, are a handful of effective instrumental interludes and dances.